Six Nations: Wales 16-9 France

Wales (10) 16

  • Try: Cuthbert
  • Con: Halfpenny
  • Pens: Halfpenny 3

France (3) 9

  • Pens: Yachvili 2, Beauxis

Wales survived France's best display of the 2012 Six Nations to secure a third Grand Slam in eight years in a pulsating Millennium Stadium encounter.

The visitors lived up to their pre-match promise to take the game to the only team left in the competition with the chance to take the Slam.

But Warren Gatland's side were equal to the challenge, holding their nerve under the pressure of great Welsh expectations, to deliver victory in arguably their best season since the game went professional in 1995.

A minute's silence before kick-off paid tribute to former Wales and Lions number eight Mervyn Davies, who died on Thursday. Davies had captained Wales for their 1976 Grand Slam.

Wales said Davies' achievements had given them extra motivation, but it was France who went ahead first through a Dimitri Yachvili penalty.

Giant wing Alex Cuthbert sliced through for a converted try to put Wales in front and two penalties from Leigh Halfpenny to one from Lionel Beauxis made it 13-6 to the hosts after an hour.

These boys can be regarded as being as successful as the 1970s side - three Grand Slams since 2005 is fantastic. I think there was a mental and physical turning point in the World Cup and they have built on it

Yachvili cut the gap to four points but Halfpenny's third penalty, with five minutes to go, saw Wales to their 11th Grand Slam in all.

France's defence was outstanding throughout with skipper Thierry Dusautoir again leading it by fearless example and Philippe Saint-Andre's side were also far more capable with ball in hand than they had been in defeat by England in the previous round.

But Wales were the better side and Dan Lydiate was the man of the match as he countered Dusautoir's defensive efforts.

Wales enjoyed the early momentum, prompting the home crowd to burst prematurely into song in anticipation of what they expected to follow.

But Jonathan Davies was twice thwarted on the left and Halfpenny saw a well-placed up-and-under come to nothing.

Scrum-half Mike Phillips was then penalised near halfway, giving France their first attacking platform.

Highlights - Wales 16-9 France

Julien Bonnaire set up the drive and after Wales were penalised Yachvili kicked the opening points.

Both sides saw promising attacks falter because of their own indiscipline at the breakdown.

Fly-half Rhys Priestland's first penalty attempt also rebounded off an upright while Halfpenny received treatment for a knock.

But Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones executed a superb steal on the floor from Dusautoir and when the ball went right, Cuthbert cut past Bonnaire 30m out before bursting clear for the opening try after 22 minutes.

Halfpenny added the conversion and after centre Davies's ball-freeing tackle on Florian Fritz, the full-back landed the penalty that resulted from the panic in the visiting defence.

2012 SIX NATIONS TABLE

Pld Won Pts

Wales

5

5

10

England

5

4

8

Ireland

5

2

5

France

5

2

5

Italy

5

1

2

Scotland

5

0

0

The up-and-unders were coming thick and fast from both teams amid the test of nerves.

Overall, however, Wales won the tactical battle in the opening period with greater possession and greater territorial gains.

A Jamie Roberts chip and chase created another Welsh chance as Dan Lydiate and lock Jones followed up to force another penalty, but Halfpenny saw it rebound off an upright to leave them 10-3 ahead at the break.

Wales suffered a blow at that point with skipper Sam Warburton continuing his record of not having finished a game against France, this time because of a shoulder injury.

Ryan Jones, sporting a Mervyn Davies-style headband a day after the death of the 65-year-old 1970s number eight icon was announced, came into a reshuffled back-row and Gethin Jenkins took over as captain.

Cuthbert broke through on the counter-attack as Wales began the second period with familiar intent, but just as Beauxis had failed with a long-range drop-goal, Priestland's effort also failed to get off the ground.

Gethin Jenkins illegally halted the threat after Palisson's dangerous chip-and-chase caught Wales out and Beauxis kicked the penalty.

Official match stats

Wales France

37

Minutes in possession

28

2 (0)

Scrums won (lost)

1 (0)

14 (3)

Line-outs won (lost)

9 (1)

10

Pens conceded

13

3

Turnovers won

3

164

Passes made

99

35

Possession kicked

32

69 (7)

Tackles made (missed)

113 (9)

9

Errors made

16

1

Line breaks

0

(delivered by Accenture)

A frenetic period of end-to-end counter-attacking offered Halfpenny the moment he had been craving since a late, long-range penalty attempt fell short in Wales' failed 2011 World Cup quarter-final against France.

This time the full-back's thumping kick crossed the bar with metres to spare to put Wales a converted try ahead with 27 minutes remaining, only for the French defence to come out on top in five-minute arm-wrestle on the visitors' 22 that followed.

Having won that psychological battle, France failed to take advantage when their scrum was caught engaging early in Wales' 22.

Wales also had a let-off when Imanol Harinordoquy failed to spot Louis Picamoles on his right after Halfpenny had lost control near his own line.

Yachvili kicked the penalty that followed, but Halfpenny responded with a brilliant counter-attack that allowed him the chance to kick another penalty.

Priestland saw a late drop-goal attempt go wide, but the home side were in control for the final play to bring down the curtain on their success.

TEAM LINE-UPS

Wales: Halfpenny; Cuthbert, J Davies, Roberts, North; Priestland, Phillips; Jenkins, Rees, A Jones, AW Jones, Evans, Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau.

Replacements: L Williams for Phillips (63), Owens for Rees (63), Charteris for AW Jones (63), R Jones for Warburton (40).

Not Used: James, Hook, S Williams.

France: Poitrenaud; Fofana, Rougerie, Fritz, Palisson; Beauxis, Yachvili; Poux, Servat, Attoub, Pape, Maestri, Dusautoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy.

Replacements: Buttin for Poitrenaud (35), Trinh-Duc for Palisson (53), Debaty for Poux (44), Szarzewski for Servat (44), Pierre for Pape (67), Picamoles for Bonnaire (59), Parra for Yachvili (70).

Att: 72,658

Ref: Craig Joubert (South Africa).